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5 big ideas from sci-fi author Neal Stephenson

Science-fiction author Neal Stephenson discusses hsi latest book, “Fall; or, Dodge in Hell,” at Town Hall Seattle. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle)

Seattle author Neal Stephenson’s works of fiction often play off the potential for future facts — for example, the virtual world described in “Snow Crash,” the nanotechnology at the heart of “The Diamond Age” and the millennium-scale thinking that’s embodied in “Anathem” (and in the real-life 10,000 Year Clock bankrolled by Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos).

His latest novel, “Fall; or, Dodge in Hell,” kicks it up a notch with ruminations about what it would take to create an artificial afterlife, powered by computerized replicas of human consciousness.

Stephenson acknowledges that his vision in the afterlife in “Fall” plays loosely with the facts of neuroscience. But his books touch on other technological themes that are closer to reality, and he discussed several of those themes this week during a talk at Town Hall Seattle. Here’s a roundup of five ideas well worth thinking about — with recommendations for further reading.

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Sci-fi ‘Fall’ blends high tech and high fantasy

Neal Stephenson
Science-fiction author Neal Stephenson, shown here at a 2018 Town Hall event in Bellevue, Wash., uses Seattle as a setting in his latest novel, “Fall; or, Dodge in Hell.” (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle)

Are we living in a simulation? Is there an afterlife? And if not, what would it take to create one? Seattle science-fiction author Neal Stephenson knits together ideas as old as the Bible and as up to date as Elon Musk’s musings in an epic 880-page novel titled “Fall; or, Dodge in Hell.”

“Fall” takes its rightful place alongside Stephenson’s earlier works, including 1991’s “Snow Crash,” which anticipated the rise of virtual and augmented reality; 1995’s “The Diamond Age,” which celebrated nanotechnology and neo-Victorianism; and 2015’s “Seveneves,” a tale that started with the moon’s mysterious destruction.

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates rated “Seveneves” among his favorite books, saying that it contained “so many cool ideas, memorable characters and good storylines that I can’t cover them all.” I can hardly wait to hear what he says about Stephenson’s latest.

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Science fiction duo looks at life after ‘The Martian’

Neal Stephenson and Andy Weir
Sci-fi author Andy Weir (“The Martian,” “Artemis”) makes a point while Neal Stephenson (“Seveneves,” “The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O.”) looks on. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle)

What could be better than hearing a science fiction writer talk about how to create whole new worlds? How about doubling that to two science fiction writers?

That was the case for a Seattle-area appearance by Andy Weir — the author of “The Martian” and “Artemis,” a just-released novel set on a moon colony in the 2080s.

When he showed up at Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park on Nov. 30, he brought along Seattle’s own Neal Stephenson, the author of science-fiction novels ranging from “Snow Crash” to “Seveneves” to “The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O.”

A standing-room-only crowd of 600 or so heard Weir and Stephenson hold forth on the writing racket. Here are some gems from the conversation:

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Time-travel novel spawns instant spin-off

Neal Stephenson
Seattle author Neal Stephenson’s latest novel is “The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O.,” written with Nicole Galland. (Photo by Bob Lee / CC BY 2.0)

Seattle author Neal Stephenson’s newly published science-fiction novel, “The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O.,” serves as the launch pad for a newly released literary app as well.

The free Bound app, available for iOS with an Android version coming soon, features a serial that’s spun off from the time-traveling characters created by Stephenson and his co-author, historical novelist Nicole Galland.

“The D.O.D.O. Files” is billed as an extension of the book, with episodes written by Jamie Ortiz and David N. Ishimaru. The first two episodes are available for free reading or listening, and fresh content will be added on a weekly basis.

In addition to the episodes, which take the form of emails as well as narratives, users can download excerpts from the fictional Department of Diachronic Operations’ human resources handbook, including DODO’s sexual harassment policy. (One of the banned behaviors is the “wearing of overly large codpieces or making reference to such codpieces.”)

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